Dr. Armand Nicholi, author of the book, The Question of God, developed great insight into the life of C.S. Lewis through his research on the man. Lewis was an atheist through the first 31 years of his life, and during this period he always dreamed of being famous. In an essay that he wrote in 1941, he speaks of dreams of success and fame, hoping one day the world would acknowledge what a remarkable person he was. Before Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, Nicholi says that he was proud and arrogant as were many who attended the elite boarding schools and prestigious universities in England. Lewis writes of his experiences at school:
I have never seen a community so competitive, so full of snobbery and flunkeyism, a ruling class so selfish and so class conscious, or a proletariat so fawning.
Shortly before becoming a Christian, Lewis began to examine his life for the first time, and he didn’t like what he saw. He had often thought of how clever he was as a teacher and dreamed of being admired by his students. He also yearned to be a well-known writer. Yet, when he became a Christian, Lewis seemed to forget about himself and his desire for fame. Ironically, that is when he found it. Nicholi says,
He found that when he concentrated on writing and forgot about becoming famous as a writer, he both wrote well and became recognized for it. This may have contributed to his oft-repeated principle that when first things are put first, second things don’t
decrease, they increase.
Lewis’s desire for fame began to really diminish because he realized how it posed such a great danger. He saw very clearly that it was nothing more than the desire to be more well-known than others, and such a desire was rooted in pride. Lewis matured as a Christian and became more alert to the presence of pride in his own life. Twelve years before he died, he wrote in a letter:
I am now in my fiftieth year. I feel my zeal for writing, and whatever talent I originally possessed, to be decreasing; nor (I believe) do I please my readers as I used to . . . Perhaps it will be the most wholesome thing for my soul that I lose both fame and skill lest I were to fall into that evil disease, vainglory.
What is ironic is that Lewis produced some of his greatest books over those next twelve years. At the end of his life, he believed his work was done, he had fulfilled his role and exerted about as much influence as he ever would. A week before his death he told his brother Warren, “I have done all that I was sent into the world to do, and I am ready to go.”
He never dreamed he would become the best-selling Christian author to ever live!